(Beyond Pesticides, Aug 2, 2010) A new report conducted by an Ann Arbor, Michigan based coalition of health and environmental groups estimates that children’s exposure to toxic chemicals, including pesticides, cost Michigan billions of dollars each year. The study examines the costs associated with four environmentally related childhood diseases: lead poisoning, asthma, pediatric cancer, and neurodevelopmental disorders. Treating these four disorders costs the state of Michigan an average of $5.85 billion annually. The study, “The Price of Pollution: Cost Estimates of Environment-Related Childhood Disease in Michigan” was released in time for the US House Energy and Commerce Committee hearings on the Toxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, an overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Using conservative estimates researchers consider direct costs such as medical treatment, as well as less direct costs such as parent wage losses. The study also notes the substantial emotional costs to families dealing with these potentially life threatening or debilitating conditions which cannot be quantified. Lead poisoning is found to be the most costly of the diseases studied, costing on average $4.85 billion annually, followed by childhood asthma, pediatric cancer, and neurodevelopmental disorders. These four disorders alone cost the state of Michigan 1.5% of its Gross Domestic Product each year; however, the number would be much higher if all environmentally related diseases had been included.
“While the report offers only an estimation of Michigan’s annual costs of diseases due to environmental exposures, it shows the magnitude of how much these toxicants cost every year,” says lead author of the report, Aviva Glaser. The important thing to take away from the report, Ms. Glaser says, is that the number represents costs for diseases that are preventable. “By removing toxic exposures in our community, we not only improve children’s health, but we can also improve Michigan’s economic health.”
This recent study is part of a growing body of literature demonstrating the need to reduce pollution from pesticides and other toxic chemicals, not only for the sake of our health, but for the economy as well. The use of pesticides in the U.S. creates large negative externalities. An externality is a spillover effect of economic activity when a third party experiences a consequence of a transaction; the consequence is not reflected in the cost. Pollution is an externality where the negative effects are felt by society as a whole. The costs of these negative externalities are much more difficult to study than revenues and production costs.
A 2005 study by Dr. David Pimentel, professor emeritus of entomology at Cornell University, found the economic cost of U.S. pesticide usage on society as a whole to be $10 billion annually. The public health costs are estimated to be $1.1 billion annually. These costs include acute poisonings, cancer, neurological, respiratory, and reproductive effects.
Industries have argued that with the current state of the economy, it is too costly to institute tighter environmental controls, and doing so would result in additional job loss. When examining the larger picture, however, the economic benefits of greater environmental protection greatly outweigh the costs. In an analysis in a 1995 issue of Pesticides and You, researchers show that a cleaner environment actually correlates with job growth and a healthy economy. A cleaner environment makes a state more attractive to new businesses, in addition environmental practices such as waste reduction often increase efficiency making industry more competitive. A cleaner environment also results in a healthier work force meaning increased productivity and fewer sick days. Stricter environmental regulations also create more jobs, as additional workers must be hired to implement new regulations, and agencies must hire more people to enforce those regulations.
Educate your U.S. Representatives and Senators on the need for stricter toxic chemicals policy, such as theToxic Chemicals Safety Act of 2010, and efforts to remove pesticides that present an unnecessary risk because of the availability of alternative management practices and products, such as organic food production and defined integrated pest management (IPM) that have eliminated toxic chemical dependency.